By: Ian K. Seppala
The carousel is one of the most recognizable amusement rides. Carrousel's feature in carnivals, amusement parks, and public places throughout the world. Caroussel's come in various sizes and shapes. A variety of materials are also used to make carousells.
Notice anything in the statement paragraph above? The spelling of the word carousel is as diverse as the attraction. All of the above spellings were at one point used by the American Amusement Industry to promote the carousel. Currently in the United States, Merry-Go-Round is the most popular term. This post provides a brief history of the term carousel, and why is has so many variations. It primarily focuses on the American Amusement industry based on author's expertise. All sources are in English and will be provided using endnotes.
As the Education Director of the Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum I experience the variety of spellings for carousel on a daily basis. When providing our website address over the phone, I must interject with "We spell it with two r's" or they will not get the correct page. Visitors on tours continuously ask about the variation as well. Even though there is a shortened answer, I wanted to provide a longer, but still brief, professional explanation on the matter.
Current English language dictionaries prefer the spelling carousel. However it appears the term merry-go-round is the currently more popular term for the amusement ride. According to dictionary.com, the first definition of a carousel is to see merry-go-round. The second definition is "A continuously revolving belt, track or other device. . ." Famous dictionary company, Merriam-Webster defines carousel as "1. a tournament or exhibition in which horsemen execute revolutions" or "2. a. merry-go-round". It also provides a single variant spelling: carrousel. Merriam-Webster succinctly defines a merry-go-round as "an amusement park ride with seats often in the form of animals (such as horses) revolving about a fixed center". This is the amusement ride we are discussing today.
The ride has gone through a variety of spellings and name changes through history. According to author Tobin Fraley, "The origin of the word itself can be traced to the Arabian games of horsemanship called carosellos, an Italian word meaning little wars" An important innovation in the history of carousels is the introduction of steam power by Englishman Fredrick Savage. In 1870, he calls his new creation roundabouts. Other English companies called their machines Dobbies or Gallopers.
When the carousel came to America it went through a few changes. American carousels rotate in the opposite direction of their British cousins, and new names are adopted. Listed below are some of the North Tonawanda Companies' Competitors and the names of their machines.
In 1867 Gustav Dentzel "renamed his cabinet shop the 'G.A. Dentzel, Steam and Horsepower Caroussell Builder'".
Charles Dare's Company is known as the New York Carousel Manufacturing Company.
In 1907 Stein and Goldstein Artistic Caroussel Manufacturers is formed.
In 1909 M.C. Illions formed M.C. Illions and Sons Carousell works.
Even among the North Tonawanda companies there is differences in naming. The Armitage-Herschell Company began by calling their machines Steam Riding Galleries. Even though these machines mechanically functioned uniquely to today's carousels, they are a precursor and therefore relevant to the argument. Once the above cranking mechanisms were adopted, the companies began to use the carousel moniker.
The Allan Herschell Company records from the Swinson Collection within the Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum Archive show an interesting if not disjointed history with the name of their principal attraction. A 1928 catalog states "No park or amusement resort is complete without a modern Jumping Horse Carrousel" However, a Manual & Guide from October 4th, 1948 describes the same machines as Merry-Go Rounds. The available price lists, from 1948-1969 refer to the machines as carrousels. These price lists would be sent to trade-shows, salesmen, and returning or inquiring customers. A final catalog (circa 1947) refers to the machines as Merry-Go-Rounds.
In conclusion, the words Merry-Go Round and Carousel (in all its spellings) were used to refer to the same amusement ride throughout its history. Each company had its own preferred spelling or term. In some cases, like the Allan Herschell Company, they seemed to use both terms at points in their history. While the reasons behind the preferences are generally lost, it does provide a helpful fact for historians. What a machine is called can provide helpful clues in determining a carousel's manufacturer. So be proud of your preferred term should, be it one r, or two.
 Fraley, Tobin, Carol Bialkowski. The Myth, the Magic, and the Memories. Pg. 7.
 Fraley, Pg. 8.
 Anderson, Sherrell S., Carousel Horses: A Photographic Celebration. Pg 16.
 Fraley, Pg. 11.
 Fraley, Pg. 13.
 Fraley, Pg. 23.
 Fraley, Pg. 21.
 1928 Allan Herschell Co. inc Catalog. Box 2/2.5, AC1 Allan Herschell Company Records, Swinson Collection 1925-1984, Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum.
 Manual & Guide October 4th, 1948. Box 2/2.4, AC1 Allan Herschell Company Records, Swinson Collection 1925-1984, Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum.
 Various Price Lists, Box 2/2.12 Box AC1 Allan Herschell Company Records, Swinson Collection 1925-1984, Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum.
 Circa 1947 Allan Herschell Co. inc Catalog Box 2/2.5, AC1 Allan Herschell Company Records, Swinson Collection 1925-1984, Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum.